This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
12/2/11 8:28 AM
buy back issues | add to the archive | contact an editor | home
JAC 13.2 (1993)
Literary Theory, Philosophy of Science, and Persuasive Discourse: Thoughts from a Neo-premodernist
Gary A. Olson
British logician Stephen Toulmin suggests that his many books could be "regarded as sketches toward a novissimum organum," in that they are all "in different ways concerned with rationality, reasonableness, the operations of the human reason, and so on." For decades he has waged a relentless attack on rationalism, associating it with "a kind of worship of algorithms, a worship of formal arguments, and an insistence on getting the right answer." He argues that we need to reconceptualize rationality as non-systematic, but he views this project to be in sharp contrast to that of Jean-Francois Lyotard and the deconstructionists, which he interprets as an attempt to replace rationality with absurdity. For Toulmin, a postmodern rationality would be situational and contextual, much more akin to "reasonableness" than to "rationality" as strictly defined. This is why he applauds the recent tendency among philosophers to engage in applied, contextual philosophy, such as the philosophy of law, the philosophy of science, or the philosophy of art: "I think philosophers often do their best work when they turn their skills to helping to hoe other people's vineyards . . . clearing away the underbrush that stands in the way of understanding." Its also why his own recent work entails spending time each week in the University of Chicago Hospital, "working alongside doctors whose business is to think about and discuss and arrive at conclusions about the moral problems that arise in the context of the clinical practice of medicine." Thus, like Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty, and many others, Toulmin sees "no legitimate
file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin.webarchive Page 1 of 37
JAC Online: 13.2
12/2/11 8:28 AM
role for theory" and advises that we "be prepared to kiss rationalism goodbye and walk off in the opposite direction with joy in our hearts." These views are entirely understandable given the fact that Toulmin's mentor at Cambridge and his principal intellectual influence was Wittgenstein, from whom he inherited "a kind of classical skepticism." As a committed pragmatist, then, Toulmin's life's work has concerned "the recovery of the tradition of practical philosophy that was submerged after the intellectual triumph of theory in the seventeenth century." Clearly, to Toulmin, "pragmatism is not just another philosophical theory on a parallel with the others." Yet, he is wary of the "many people who have claimed to break with Descartes in the last few years," seeing many of them (including Lyotard) as "really rejecting Descartes for Cartesian reasons." In the interview recorded below, Toulmin discusses these and several other issues relevant to scholars in rhetoric and composition. Noting the importance of clear writing and ample revision--especially in philosophy, "where obscurity is regarded as a mark of profundity"-he offers Toulmin's Law of Composition: "The effort the writer does not put into writing, the reader has to put into reading." He criticizes Chaim Perelman's "new rhetoric" for failing to open "up the broader perspectives within which the new rhetoric functions as richly as I would like to see done." In fact, much in the spirit of many of us in rhetoric and composition, he argues for a substantially broad conception of rhetoric: "What we call rhetoric has to be understood as including dialectic, topics, all those bits of the discussion about argumentation that are not analytic." In addition, he takes issue with strict social constructionist theory and with Chomskyan nativism, approving only of "weak" versions of both: "I would need a lot of convincing in a very specific case before I was prepared to concede a particular grammatical structure was hard-wired in"; nevertheless, it seems "to go without saying that in many important respects the human capacity for language not only is an inherited capacity, but it has certain physiological preconditions, not least neurophysiological preconditions." In addition, Toulmin comments on feminism and the woman's movement, crediting the latter with making him "in important respects emancipated," and saying, "I really felt through much of my life this business of living
Page 2 of 37
JAC Online: 13.2
12/2/11 8:28 AM
in an oppressively structured society." Of course, most compositionists know of Toulmin through his work on persuasion, detailed in his The Uses of Argument. Toulmin states that he didn't think he was "writing a book on the theory of rhetoric, or really even on the theory of argumentation," nor was he even certain that he was "writing a book with a model in it." Nor, for that matter, is he convinced today that "the Toulmin model could be used equally well for argumentation in all fields or of all kinds." This last position is in keeping with his general stance against theory: "No algorithm is selfapplying." Thus, "every text has to be understood in relation to a situation." For decades scholars have observed that Toulmin based his model of argumentation on a jurisprudential model, but he takes this opportunity to correct this common misunderstanding, claiming that he added the comparison with jurisprudence as an afterthought. He also points out that he's dissatisfied with the book's discussion of "backing," commenting that were he to write the book today he would substantially strengthen the treatment of backing. Given Toulmin's attempt to dismantle rationalism and his concern with establishing a useful postmodern philosophical tradition, his project shares numerous similarities with that of the poststructuralists. Yet, he seems to have no patience for the French deconstructionists. Acknowledging that he cannot make "the investment of time needed in order to penetrate their terminology" because he is "too old," he nonetheless believes that deconstruction is "game playing so far as I'm concerned." It's no wonder that he prefers Montaigne to "nearly everybody I've read who's consciously postmodernist." Consequently, Toulmin would rather be known as a "neo-premodernist" than as a postmodernist; he believes "the thing to do after rejecting Cartesianism is not to go on through the wreckage of the temple but to go back into the town where this heretical temple was built and rediscover the life that was lived by people for many centuries before the rationalist dream seized hold of people's minds." Perhaps the work of this eminent neo-premodernist will be of use to many of us in rhetoric and composition as we continue to construct a discipline responsive to the intellectual challenges of a postmodern age.
file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin.webarchive Page 3 of 37
and lectures over the last several decades. Yes. too. Do you think of yourself as a writer? A. though. I typically. I get more direct and intense satisfaction out of writing something to my own satisfaction than I do out of. on the word processor. and if the choice is between being a writer or being a teacher. What I tend to do most often now (though not with the most difficult material) is to talk a draft into a tape recorder. this is the most satisfactory. articles. We in rhetoric and composition are interested in how successful writers compose. I wrote out my first ethics book with pen and ink.JAC Online: 13. teaching. you give a great deal of thought to the subject before actually dictating a text. I'm a writer. I've been writing for more than forty years. I was inhibited because it embarrassed me very much to send the same thing back for retyping seven or eight times just because I wanted to rephrase things or to move a clause from one place to another. To me. that by and large I never begin to write anything until I have the whole thing worked out. I find the word processor a great invention from the moral as well as the technological point of view: I don't have the sense that I'm exploiting the secretarial help in the way I did. Q. I suppose I think of myself as a writer. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. So. Well. even in my books. do you outline before drafting? Do you revise substantially? Do you use a computer? A. have a pretty accurate idea about what will go into every stage. even in the Cosmopolis book. Let me say. So. have that transcribed onto a Macintosh disk.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM Q. I'm not sure that just being a writer is an honorable way of spending a whole life. When I wrote things with ink or when I had a typist who typed things out. Q. You've written an impressive number of successful books. which is the editing. I underline. up-to-date technique given what's available. for instance.webarchive Page 4 of 37 . but that's another matter. and then do the really hard work. Would you describe your writing process? For example. I don't embark on a writing project to see how it looks. that the really hard work is the editing. and the process has changed (some people never leave the quill pen behind).
As a result of deliberately avoiding being obscure.JAC Online: 13. It's especially important in philosophy. The effect of this is that a lot of people say to me. philosophers have at any rate file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I have a sense sometimes that he just kept writing and periodically tore off the lengths and sent it to the printer. Obviously." To which I state Toulmin's Law of Composition: The effort the writer does not put into writing. I have this trouble particularly with a man I immensely admire: John Dewey. I rather resent being told that this came easily. The only trouble is that since I put immense effort into the editorial stage so as to make sure not only that I have said what I wanted to say but that it comes off as having a kind of natural rhythm. it's much more like architecture. a sense of where I'm headed and how it's all fitting together. it's partly irritation. Q. I said a moment ago that editing is the most important factor. youre so lucky to be able to write so clearly. I have to have a sense of the architectonic of it. partly the joy of discovery) than when you read a text for the seventh time and suddenly realize what it is the writer is trying to say.webarchive Page 5 of 37 . really begins only at the point at which I know what the entire opus is supposed to be. where obscurity is regarded as a mark of profundity. Especially if it is a very good point that you've previously come to recognize for yourself. the reader has to put into reading.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM A. Quite a few compositionists will be pleased with your emphasis on the revising and editing processes. and I almost mean this dead literally (though a lot of it actually goes on in my head subvocally rather than vocally): I go through all my material repeatedly to see how it will sound to a reader and how the rhythms of the prose will come out and contribute to the reader's understanding. it's a little irritating that it hadn't been made clear that this is what the person was saying. some of that goes down on paper or in the computer in the form of headings and a sort of blocking out of rough chapter sections and so on. A. but the actual writing process. Having lived all these years with the texts of philosophers. "Oh Stephen. which may be the dictating process. I'm quite sure that Dewey didn't do what I do. It's not that I think about it. let me say that there are few things more irritating in reading a philosopher (well.
(Sometimes when I'm talking to scientists. most theory had by that time become too brazenly mathematical. In certain respects. If we're talking about who influenced me philosophically. I wrote the Wittgenstein/Vienna book with Allan Janik. then moved to the philosophy of science. I was already strongly inclined to move in the direction that he encouraged us to move in: toward a kind of classical skepticism. then to the history of science. I went to his classes in Cambridge in the last couple of years of his time there. Who would you say has had the most influence on you intellectually? A. Q. but I think that where he ends up in regard to all matters of technical philosophy is in a classical Pyrrhonist position of saying that the thing to do with philosophical questions is not to answer them but to avoid answering them and to step back and ask. I've written an essay in which I draw attention to the parallels between Wittgenstein and Sextus Empiricus. I started in the exact sciences.JAC Online: 13. and certainly Wittgenstein's whole approach to philosophy was tremendously influential on me. When I was given a piece of apparatus to work with. Well. I say that I've spent the years since 1942. I tended to break it.webarchive Page 6 of 37 . my first degree was in math and physics. like him. well obviously Wittgenstein. Besides. attending Wittgenstein's lectures gave me the courage of previous convictions. let's take a whole string of people. with Montaigne as a kind of intermediate figure. "How on earth did we get into this trap?" Wittgenstein was a major influence partly because. and I discovered that my reasons for being interested in physics were not the same as those of my successful colleagues in the discipline. trying to figure out what it was I'd been taught at Cambridge. then to the broader sociology and politics of file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. It's not that I think for a moment that Wittgenstein had read these people. and thank God on the whole this has been part of a longstanding tradition among philosophers of English origin from John Locke and David Hume on.) So. fifty years now. It was clear that I was not going to make a living as an experimenter.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM made some effort to write with non-Germanic clarity. I earned my living during the Second World War working on radar. I began in physics. that is.
he says in one of the early notebooks. I see myself as having started in the empty center and built the onion around it layer by layer. and that he does not really get the better of philosophically until around 1930. it's kind of the reverse of Peer Gynt: whereas Gynt starts outside the onion and starts taking it to pieces. Like so many people who have claimed to break with Descartes in the last few years.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM science. A. of course. However. So that's the point about my being a physicist. What I found particularly unsatisfactory was his failure to pay any attention to the longterm intellectual significance of history.webarchive Page 7 of 37 . I didn't find his approach to ethics anything like as congenial. certainly not in his regular lectures." That is. Wittgenstein was just a tiny bit inclined to attack Descartes with Cartesian weapons. Wittgenstein had. That was your first book. I don't think that at that stage I understood at all clearly what Wittgenstein's attitude toward ethics was. but Boltzmann committed suicide just before Wittgenstein was due to go there.) However. and been file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. Q. that was how I got onto the human understanding project. and finally to the whole place of the exact sciences in the overall march of intellectual history. there is a strong element of narcissism that comes out in a form of a philosophical solipsism. been terribly interested in physics to begin with and to the end of his life acknwledged Heinrich Hertz as one of the major writers from whom he had got ideas and in whom he found something of his own philosophical attitudes. (As you know. yes.) And Wittgenstein follows Descartes. (It was a time of suicides. He had wanted to work with Ludwig Boltzmann. Durkheim writes about it. you were asking about influences. I see it as a sort of constant building. as you know. I think Lyotard and such people are really rejecting Descartes for Cartesian reasons. and the next point is that although I found Wittgenstein's general philosophical method very congenial. that meant that at a certain stage it was quite apparent to me that you couldn't really get the account of the operations of the human reason that I was interested in without looking at how concepts change. but this was after having again read.JAC Online: 13. He didn't really talk about it very much. "What is history to me? Mine is the first and only world. Well.
all this examination of argumentation and concepts and the rest should be conducted with an eye to the historically changing character of argument forms and basic concepts. the entirety of my work could in fact. the BBC's intellectual weekly. Actually (and perhaps I'll write an essay about this sometime). I feel I have to do something file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. There's a little postscript at the end of The Uses of Argument in which I say. not with any intention of teasing people. reasonableness.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM encouraged by reading. "Strictly speaking. "Oh. In fact. Collingwood is a strong influence at a certain stage. that is. and Peter Strawson wrote a dismissive review in The Listener. I've often put a little teaser at the end of works. I was still living in England when I wrote that book. The few who bothered to read it said. turning out to have a longer life than the obstetrician predicted for it. I was surprised that it kept selling so well. and so on." and I mention Collingwood there as being a philosopher for whom that's a starting point rather than something to be disregarded. like Hume's Treatise. The Uses of Argument has received an enormous amount of attention." I'm deeply aware of the book's reception. all my books are in different ways concerned with rationality. be regarded as sketches toward a "novissimum organum". So. and then I discovered that it was being used up and down the Mississippi Valley. Collingwood. I spent two days at a boot camp in Kalamazoo with members of the Speech Communication Association who have a subgroup that deals with what they call "communication ethics.JAC Online: 13.webarchive Page 8 of 37 . It was not initially overwhelming. Recently. Q. it was The Uses of Argument. for those who are interested. particularly in England. it's an antilogic book" (pragmatism wasn't in vogue yet in England). almost as a kind of reminder to myself about what it is I ought to be thinking about next. I published it in England. from a certain point of view. If ever a book imitated Hume's Treatise by falling stillborn from the press but. the operations of the human reason. that was the end of the matter so far as my colleagues in England were concerned. Are you surprised by the overwhelming critical reception of that book and of the so-called "Toulmin method" of argumentation? A.
that's the deeper agenda. from Locke to Kant. The Uses of Argument was intended to show people explicitly on a more general level the points that had been exercising me when I wrote first about ethics and then about science in the earlier books. "I have a lot of mottoes of the form. after all. so long as they don't use my ideas dogmatically. I wasn't clear that I was writing a book with a model in it. I certainly didn't think I was writing a book on the theory of rhetoric. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. or really even on the theory of argumentation. So. Do you approve of this pedagogical application of your work? A. Q. However. and again from Mach and Russell on through to the Cambridge people like G. The deeper agenda arose out of a perception about the argument in epistemology--particularly empiricist epistemology." So. This argument was largely generated as a result of confusion between substantive arguments and formal arguments and sprang from a demand that substantive arguments meet formal criteria of a sort that seemed to me (and to Aristotle) inappropriate. and they were a little unhappy when I said that it wasn't plain to me that the Toulmin model could be used equally well for argumentation in all fields or of all kinds. Moore and the younger people. I wanted to say. I'd approve of anything people find fruitful.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM to pay back what these people have done for me. On the face of it. Many compositionists use your method as a kind of heuristic for helping students develop argumentative essays.JAC Online: 13. I wrote the book seeking to demonstrate that these epistemological problems would dissolve if only you looked more seriously at what substantive argumentation was about.E. when I wrote The Uses of Argument. Now.webarchive Page 9 of 37 . and it seemed natural to give a more general account of the kinds of considerations I'd been concerned with in these two special cases. or No theory is self-validating. No algorithm is self-applying. I had already by that time written first the Reason in Ethics book and then the little Philosophy of Science book. I was having a chat with the people at the SCA communication ethics meeting. I had two agendas in writing the book. The more superficial agenda was that. you have to find out as you go along in what areas this model works best and in what areas one has to use it with qualifications.
has spent decades pondering exactly what makes a text in anthropology persuasive.JAC Online: 13. however. I believe every text has to be understood in relation to a situation. or they can walk down the center of the road. We find ourselves in a situation in which the word context is used to mean two quite different things: on the one hand. I have to start with a prefatory remark. as a critical tool for examining persuasive essays and speeches. my editor convinced me that people wouldn't be grateful with being stuck with neologisms and that if there is this ambiguity in words like decontextualize. Q. I have to be rather careful because in writing Cosmopolis. the larger text of which a particular text is a part. With that said. This human interest may be that of molecular biologists. I'm pleased.webarchive Page 10 of 37 . If you give people a crutch.) What would you say is at the heart of persuasion? What above everything makes a text persuasive? A. they can walk into a marsh. If I help people get to the right conclusion more quickly. Many scholars in numerous disciplines are preoccupied with the nature of persuasion. though I might well be critical in particular cases. for example. on the other hand. Are you also pleased with this application of your work? A. we're stuck with it for the time being. And that's file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. Some scholars in composition and others in speech use your method as a tool of discourse analysis." I suppose it might have been a good idea if I'd gone through it with my word processor's search and replace. the situation. the situation into which a text is put. I'm quite uncritical in general about this. I realized that all the things I'd said about "decontextualization" and "recontextualization" were really "desituation" and "resituation. in which case what makes a text persuasive has something to do with the role of that text in whatever conceptual clarification and refinement is occurring in a particular corner of molecular biology. Clifford Geertz. In this I agree with Habermas that all knowledge is related to a human interest of one kind or another. (He said recently in JAC that it has more to do with an author's ethos than with presenting a body of facts. at a certain stage about halfway through it.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM Q. the other bits of text which are around it.
there is no scope for language to be put to use in a way that will convey anything. Have you thought of any ways to refine your model.JAC Online: 13. We can see what might have made them persuasive. We can reread those speeches now and admire the craftsmanship involved in their composition and the flawless actors way in which throw-away phrases and such things were inserted. Obviously. Q. but that's a piece of historical reconstruction now. It's been almost four decades since you published The Uses of Argument. the less well-defined the situation within which a text is made public and the shared goals of the author and the audience toward which the publication of the text is intended to make a contribution. I'm still enough of a Wittgensteinian to believe that there has to be a Lebensform [life-form] in order for there to be a Sprachspiel [language game]. it's always contingent upon a specific context or situation." It's too much of a kind of carpetbag file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. for instance. All language functions in situations. If I were writing it again today. I would say a great deal more in particular about the variety of different things that go by the name of "backing. but in a different kind of way from the texts in molecular biology. but when we reread them now there's nothing to say they're persuasive because the occasion for persuasion has passed. especially knowing what kind of audience would actually want to make use of it. wonderfully persuasive. Q.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM not a simple matter. Oh. the harder it is to say what makes something persuasive. So there's nothing inherent in a speech or a text that ensures persuasion. it isn't a matter of finding out that two and two make four. or would you like to alter or retract any part of it? A. Churchill gave speeches in the House of Commons in the early 1940s. sure.webarchive Page 11 of 37 . The whole of philosophy of science is concerned with deciding what's at issue when a new paper is regarded as having made a deep and important contribution to molecular biology. as I recall. A. When Mr. they were. Unless there are human beings engaged in shared activities.
Q. such as Charles Willard. he and I always have a nice argument. he's a nice fellow. Many scholars in communication talk about the "Toulmin revolution" in argumentation. But I like him. to contextualize logic and argument. the discussion of backing is the part that's least satisfactory in the original book and needs a lot of brushing up. they can't be said to fail to do something they were not intended to do. Philosophically speaking. Well. It's been said that you based your model of argumentation on the workings of jurisprudence in order to move away from the traditional model of logic based on mathematics and a form of reasoning that seemed too abstract to be relevant to real-world situations. he's welcome to tear it apart. When Rieke. and he's certainly entitled to make those points To the extent that the Toulmin model has developed a life of its own.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM concept in the book. He's a bull terrier: he likes to go into a situation and find a rag that he can chew hard on. the "critical thinking" movement that swept the nation in the 1970s and 80s was an attempt to situate logical reasoning in realistic scenarios. attack your descriptive diagrams for creating "conceptional confusion" and for unjustly simplifying the phenomena they seek to describe. characterizing your work as descriptive (as opposed to older prescriptive models) and as in the forefront of the "process view of human communication.webarchive Page 12 of 37 . particularly in the final chapters where we talk about argumentation in different spheres. we did something to make the discussion of backing a bit more sophisticated. I'm one of his pet rags. What is your response to criticism that your descriptive diagrams are reductive and fail to account for the true complexity of persuasive communication? A. others. What is your opinion of the critical thinking movement? Do you see your work on argumentation as a part of that movement? file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. Similarly.JAC Online: 13. Janik. He's got points he wants to make." However. It doesn't affect my ego. I know Charlie. and he's serious. and I did the Introduction to Reasoning book much later. Q.
I only have a kind of newspaper reader's gossipy. first. it does seem to me that pragmatism is not just another philosophical theory on a file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. and then at the very end it occurred to me that as a way to add a bit of clarity to the exposition. people just assume things without bothering to inquire." In some ways. As you've probably gathered. do you see your work in trying to situate logic this way as related to the critical thinking movement? A. Your work on argumentation is often cited along with Chaim Perelman's (his coauthor. I regret that things did not happen the way they're reputed to have happened. I was never part of the critical thinking movement. Some people commenting on my general philosophical approach have noted how surprising it was for a pragmatist to be born in England. seems to get lost in the shuffle) as the two works that have changed the face of argumentation. therefore. That's interesting. Olbrechts-Tyteca. For the record. Let me step back and say something larger. Q.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM A. I take the opportunity to correct this widespread misapprehension. the comparison with jurisprudence would do no harm. Q. I know. I brought that in right at the end.webarchive Page 13 of 37 . So. I said earlier that I had great admiration for John Dewey. I never attempted any involvement in it.JAC Online: 13. I didn't base The Uses of Argument on a jurisprudential model. There's an assumption in the first part that's false. because numerous commentators have made quite a point about your basing your model on jurisprudence. A. Q. and. I believe I was right to think that it was illuminating to use the jurisprudential model and the "court of reason. I wrote the book almost entirely. it wasn't in my mind or part of my plan when I was first working up the content of the book. What is your assessment of Perelman's "new rhetoric"? A. acquaintance with the movement and therefore don't know much about it. You're the first to raise this with me. For what it's worth.
) His new rhetoric is fine. though it's narrower than I would like it to be. Rorty still has a highly individualistic attitude toward all philosophical issues and even toward language: anybody's welcome to invent their own language. I think the long-run thrust of pragmatism is concerned with what I call the "recovery of practical philosophy.webarchive Page 14 of 37 . or our fellow ornithologists. Thus. of which pragmatism is a phase. it seems to me that looking back down the road. and yet he seems to miss an awful lot of the points that Dewey is sound on. Dewey already had remarkably well-formed all the main sense of what practical philosophy should be and also a deep understanding of what was wrong with the tradition from Descartes on. (Just a few weeks ago I was at a conference in Lisbon organized by Michel Meyer. it's not surprising if parallel sorts of things happen in different places.) What I find interesting is that Richard Rorty claims to be an admirer of Dewey. So. Neither Perelman nor Meyer really opens file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. who is Perelman's leading surviving student and who runs the successor program at the Free University of Brussels. as a major change in the history of philosophy. and if you want to talk a different language that's your privilege. one of the most conservative Catholic philosophy schools in Europe. And we share not only the language but the Lebensform which provides the situations within which different language games can operate. Was Perelman Jewish? I suppose so. (His Quest for Certainty book is still worth reading. Now. In particular (and this is curious in somebody who knows the whole Wittgensteinian move). generated pragmatism from within an extraordinary epistemological framework that was deeply pre-Wittgensteinian-by the time you get to Dewey. so to say. It's difficult to be a pragmatist in a country whose philosophical life is dominated by Leuven. for instance. or our fellow criminal defense lawyers. or our fellow Democratic party members.JAC Online: 13.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM parallel with the others. But Dewey is quite clear that language functions within collective enterprises. although the birth of pragmatism was painful--in that William James." the recovery of the tradition of practical philosophy that was submerged after the intellectual triumph of theory in the seventeenth century. historians of philosophy will see this revival of practical philosophy. and we get involved in all these different things in which we share language with our felow baseball players.
it must evolve into a consciously and critically argumentative science. What is your opinion.webarchive Page 15 of 37 . of this kind of use of your work and. what we call "rhetoric" has to be understood as including dialectic." What role do you see rhetoric playing in a postmodern age? A. is another question. You've said. politics. . of attempts in general to create a science of literary criticism? file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. "Since the mid-1960s. and only one valid form.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM up the broader perspectives within which the new rhetoric functions as richly as I would like to see done. Q. topics. When I refer to my own work as sketches for another organon. second. And I think theoretical philosophy as it has existed since the seventeenth century has generally attempted to confine the discussion of argumentation and the validity of arguments to the zone occupied by the Prior and Posterior Analytics of Aristotle. Q. poetics. rhetoric. Whether the argument was valid or not is a question that can be established and to which the answer can be given without peradventure. So for me.JAC Online: 13. what goes with this is a sense that what needs reviving is not just rhetoric but all the bits of the organon that are not analytic. and the other things that Aristotle also regards as worth including in his entire series of linked projects. whereas once you get into ethics." He then proceeds to outline such a "science" based almost entirely on your method of argumentation. all those bits of the discussion about argumentation that are not analytic. . liberate itself from the (self-adopted) ghetto of the humanities. Why? For the very good reason that it appeared that one could keep those under sufficient control to say (roughly speaking) that there was only one valid answer to any given question. Siegfried Schmidt has argued in New Literary History that "if literary science is to . I think "rhetoric" is kind of a code word. the thing becomes inescapably hermeneutic. Whether it's prudent to go on calling these things "rhetoric" when there are still many people for whom the word rhetoric has all kinds of bad overtones. and it now shares with narrative an attention for which they both waited a long time. first. rhetoric has begun to regain its respectability as a topic of literary and linguistic analysis.
2 12/2/11 8:28 AM A." Obviously. He gives a couple of lectures. while Leibniz was born two years before the end of the Thirty Years War. Siegfried Schmidt come from? Q. why does he have so much investment in his pragmatics being universal?" Tom explains how different it was growing up in Germany after the Second World War from growing up in England just before and during the Second World War. In that case. I'm not going to say anything of the shallow relativistic kind. For example. by whom he means some people in Germany who call themselves neo-Aristotelians. I don't like this "self-adopted ghetto of the humanitie. We really do come out of situations in which what reasonably mattered to us was very different. "If literary criticism is to become a serious discipline. since he was at the University of Bielefeld when his article was translated from the German by Peter Heath. A. The point is that when you find yourself getting involved with arguments that come out of a situation in another country. you have to do a bit of checking to determine what was at stake in the debate from which this thing was taken. I assume he's from Germany. The word Wissenschaft does not mean the same as the word science. and the other." that's different from saying in English that it has to be a "science. we're deceived by the translator because I'll bet he used the word Wissenschaft. but it's the general "situation" problem again. Habermas comes here to Northwestern most years.JAC Online: 13. For me it's of crucial importance that Descartes died two years after the end of the Thirty Years War. usually on Kant's ethics as being the ultimate font of universalization and impartiality and the rest. that. and what an intelligent young man would have regarded as of supreme intellectual importance in the 1630s was quite different from what an intelligent file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I would regard it as a catastrophe." I don't know who or what he is referring to. "What's really biting Jürgen. They lived in totally different situations. and we have a jolly two or three days when he's here. if the question reads. it has to do this. take the arrows full in my chest. and say. Sometimes I ask my colleague Tom McCarthy.webarchive Page 16 of 37 . "I'm happy to be a neo-Aristotelian." Also. then I get up like St." So we chew that one a bit. Where does Mr. Sebastian. it means "discipline. He and I have a kind of joking relationship: he gets up and denounces the neo-Aristotelians.
Q. In my experience. Basically. like the principle of sufficient reason?" I used to find Leibniz totally opaque until I realized that he was the first ecumenist. this would be what they call the "genetic fallacy" and things of this kind. like Wittgenstein. or is there a specific reason? A. then. a preoccupation with theory in this area does more harm than good. If I thought there were definitely right answers to overly general philosophical questions. it enables one to make this point. Q.webarchive Page 17 of 37 . being a classical skeptic helps one in this respect. I think that to try to answer philosophical questions definitively on that level of generality is a piece of self-deception. then the question is. I find the role of theory in literary studies exceedingly limited. But since. I think it's worth specifying the reasons. do you see as the role of literary theory. For the same reasons that we talk about theory being limited in a general sense. The first step you take in developing a theory file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. especially if it is not going to be looking for universals? A. I don't believe that this is an area in which there should be a concern with theory. then I wouldn't be allowed to say this.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM young man would have regarded as of supreme intellectual importance in Germany in the 1680s. Now you approach a very delicate area for me.JAC Online: 13. "What was at stake for people that they felt it indispensable to find some self-validating proposition like cogito ergo sum or some principle of judgment that would compel the attention of scholars of all kinds. What. Of course. This is the "situation" factor. He spent thirty years trying to organize a congress to which theologians of every orientation would come and arrive at agreement about which of the basic doctrines of Christianity stood to reason--conformed to the principle of sufficient reason--and which were sufficiently idiosyncratic that everybody could see that different people would have different opinions about them but that it wouldn't matter.
I have a slightly different sense of what the authors attitude toward his heroine was. that's okay if at the end of the day you understand that you have to argue your way back to real life before what you say has any direct application to the particular regard with which you're concerned. irresistible. is quite good. of course. Do you have a literary critic in mind who would provide the kind of illumination you're talking about while avoiding limiting abstraction? A. Every time I reread Anna. (I've heard him give some very bad lectures. "What light if any does your theoretical analysis throw on these other texts that are somewhat different from the ones from which you arrived at your initial abstraction?" Most of the authors whose literary productions I find commanding my attention. Mr. This is what in practice abstraction is. that Tolstoy is not a great novelist is self-refuting--or self-discrediting. you can dislike his attitudes in certain respects. to that extent.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM is to abstract: you find some examples that seem to exemplify with particular clarity some patterns that you would like to use as general patterns about which to develop a method of theoretical analysis.JAC Online: 13. That's my feeling. and you choose initially to ignore both all other situations which don't exemplify the patterns so clearly and also all other features even in those situations which are not directly relevant to the pattern from which you are abstracting. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. It's a very rich and complex book. Q. that would be giving it too much credit. rather. I wouldn't want to say self-refuting. I reread Anna every second year. but that was one of his better ones. Now.webarchive Page 18 of 37 . Consider Tolstoy." The question arises. You can't just say. and seizing my imagination. when he writes criticism. because of the way he stuffs detail into the picture.) I share his sense that any literary theory which entails. "Texts that don't fit the criteria of my theory are bogus. I remember being heartened when Bellow gave his Nobel lecture. Saul Bellow. for example. You end up with an analysis that is abstract. both for authorial reasons and. and. are attempting to show us something about our lives in all their complexity in a way that would be falsified quite misleadingly if one were simply to use them to abstract some bits and throw the rest away. There is this sense that you can quarrel with the old man. you can be unclear what his attitudes are from reading to reading.
He was like a door mouse: he file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. He was very old and was retired. all the very best physicists I know are also deeply interested in those aspects of life which the humanities are there to record. I don't like the word social. that for me all questions about knowledge have to be situated. Q.webarchive Page 19 of 37 . and one of the people who was there in the later part of my time at Cambridge was E." Do you disagree generally with the thesis that knowledge is a social construct? A. Saying that knowledge is a social construct need only be to say the same thing I've already said--namely.M. and it's game playing so far as I'm concerned. I spent a fair amount of the most impressionable years of my growing up at King's College Cambridge. It's too narrow. Forster.JAC Online: 13. saying that "the contrast between normal and revolutionary change has acquired something of the same spurious absoluteness as the medieval contrast between rest and motion. But I'll tell you. You take Thomas Kuhn to task for his theory of how knowledge in science is created. Q. I'm enormously grateful for having been a physicist. Honestly. on the other hand. Just to mention another influence on me. If being a social construct only means situated. It pushes one in the direction of sociology and politics in cases where more may be at stake than sociology and politics.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM Siegfried Schmidt seems to me to be a bit of a barbarian if he really regards the humanities as a ghetto. It's very unfair of me to say so without having made this investment. I decided I was already too old for that to be a prudent investment. well yes. My sense is that they take us about as far as the Tractatus. What about the use of the French deconstructionists in literary criticism? Do you have any opinion about that? A. but it's based on a partial judgment that is not totally uninformed. about ten years ago I had to decide whether to make an investment: the investment of time needed in order to penetrate their terminology. I never know what that phrase means. that there's a great deal of humane wisdom even in the Philosophical Investigations.
He was like a character out of Beatrix Potter. he could not bring himself to believe that we were right to esteem society above our friends." Forster was. and. I've never thought of it this way before. I remember having an amusing conversation with him in which he was explaining how there were certain nineteenth- file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. you could feel his whiskers twitching. his "beloved republic. but one can say that there are certain parallels between Forster and Tolstoy in this respect.E.JAC Online: 13. He had an enormous sensitivity for priorities. And in his Essays in Biography. called parts of his theory "ideal utilitarianism"." in which he says he's full of admiration for democracy and is quite prepared to believe that it is the best sketch for a form of government one could have. Moore. I suppose. became a kind of moral handbook so far as they were concerned. Moore's Principia Ethica in its kind of practical moral interpretation. I have argued that Tolstoy did not believe that moral relationships were possible except with other people who lived within walking or at most horseriding distance from you. let me just expand on this a bit because it's a very nice point in some ways.webarchive Page 20 of 37 . who belonged to a generation very much concerned not to reject utilitarianism so much as to criticize the preoccupation of its parents and grandparents with the sewers and public works. the chief literary figure who understood G. the last chapter in Moore's Principia Ethica. nevertheless. especially if you're interested in the late nineteenth-century novel. So Forster was very much a Moorian in that way. he reserves three cheers for. but that was because for him the goals of action should not only be concerned with eliminating disease and hunger and other important issues.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM was so tiny and retiring. There was a very intelligent conservative politician called Edward Boyle who died ridiculously young. He wrote the famous essay "Two Cheers for Democracy. but it should also be concerned with the pleasures of friendship and the appreciation of beauty in art and nature and so on. If I may. so that the chapter on the Ideal. how does he put it. Tolstoy's conception of the moral universe is of those people with whom you have occasion to interact on a day-to-day basis. in particular. so to say. John Maynard Keynes explains what Moore meant to the Bloomsbury people and how they took his rather abstract arguments and turned them into a kind of gospel.
and therefore rality. only this time a train journey is not enough. Chekhov is similar: everybody in Chekhov is always dreaming of going to Moscow in the same way that everybody in Hardy is dreaming of going to London. it's the moment they start saying it's only a social construct that the trouble starts. Yes. Put it this way: theories in physics are constructed socially as external. This comes out in Anna as well. it's not external to human discourse. she is doing it again. of course. is only a social construct." which I think is an unhappy way of putting it. the externality of their reference is part of the account.webarchive Page 21 of 37 . Because the moral demands made on her are for one reason or another too intense. too unbearable. because they then immediately bring in some object of contrast which had previously only been implied. the invention of the private car made it much harder to distinguish between the people with whom we are actively engaged in a moral way from day to day. This is what he has in mind when he talks about the "third world. but I think those people who consider themselves "social constructionists" are beginning with both Kuhn and Rorty and are saying that knowledge. This is a point that Karl Popper grinds on and on about. To say knowledge is a social construct and not external is open to file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin.JAC Online: 13. This is quite different. One of the central things in Anna is that Anna finds herself in a series of situations that become progressively intolerable to her. she can't cope. This is why. Right at the end.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM century novelists--the one he chose to talk about was Thomas Hardy--who could only have written after the invention of the railway and before the invention of the automobile. what happens again and again is that she goes down to the railway station and gets on a train to go somewhere. The point is that it's clear that social includes the micro social: "me and my friends. and other people. it turns out to be a load of old rope. in someways. This isn't to say that theories in physics are as they stand metaphysical or open to attack as foundationalist. and if you really get them to specify what they mean by that which they're contrasting." Do you see what I'm saying? Q. At any rate. all of this is because I said I wasn't happy with the word social. A. I don't mind them saying it's a social construct. Where the train is going is the last matter of importance.
You say that "sexual emotion appeared the gravest threat to the hierarchical Nationfile:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. full Wittgensteinian seriousness. which. which is concerned with sense perception. Q. I think it need do no harm to say that all theories are social constructs if all you mean is that concepts are human products and that you have no theory without concepts. philosopher Lorraine Code argues that the sex of the knower is "epistemologically significant" and that it is time to move beyond mainstream epistemology." But what's he just done? You see. psychology is growing out of this. Physics itself has changed a lot. is Cartesian and is modeled after physics. It is much more natural to think of it as like biology. it was the model that Descartes held out as being what physics ought to be. I think it's important to understand that mental functions and even higher mental functions are refinements and extensions of organic functions. though I should point out that it wasn't even the model of physics. If Kant had really understood about the Ding an sich with. It's essentially a treatise on sensory psychology. and it's done within a strictly biological framework. I never understood why academic psychologists wanted their subject to be like physics. she argues. So I agree with Code. so unless you understand all the different languages of biology (and there are at least four independent languages within biology. Kant keeps saying. but it's clear right through the middle of the century. In a recent book about feminist epistemology and the construction of knowledge. he would have found some way of gesturing in the direction of that which we can't say anything about. "You can't say anything at all about the Ding an sich. Certainly.JAC Online: 13.webarchive Page 22 of 37 . that's the problem. Q. you really don't have a proper launching off ground to develop either psychology or epistemology.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM precisely the same difficulties as Kant's references to the Ding an sich [the thing in itself]. such as Hermann von Helmholtzs Physiological Optics. I think the defects of the Cartesian tradition come up most strikingly in the shortcomings of psychology. he would have avoided saying that. not least the evolutionary one). so to say. Think of some of the early masterpieces of psychology. What are your thoughts about this work? A.
Q. gender discrimination. and the role of women. That's a silly example. other races. On every level. I was not able to articulate it to myself. the women's movement is a very important expression of it. so I have more time to cook than she has. For example. They react to how I am dressed. I only knew that in my relations with people from other classes. because I have a sense that nothing is any longer seeking to have me treat women or blacks or working class people. and the other principal gender. (I don't go back to England more often than I can help. In what way? A. but I'm sure some people will resonate to it. I happen to enjoy cooking. though she tends to cook on weekends. This has always been a source of pain for me. I always had the sense that these relationships were distorted by irrelevant external social demands. most particularly to what my voice sounds like. They don't wait to find out what kind of person I am. I realize that people are reacting to me on the basis of what they perceive me as being. but I have so many family members there that I really have to visit. I could go on about this. Sure. or aristos for that matter." One of the final blows to modernism and its defense of nationstates was the new attitude toward sex. I really felt it very much on my pulse. emotions. To file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I personally feel immense gratitude for the women's movement. though I hate to take on single causes in a situation of this kind. In our household. The fact is that I really felt through much of my life this business of living in an oppressively structured society. I go to and fro between America and England. not on the basis of what they find me to be. This is becoming a sort of testimony at this point. Do you credit this monumental change of attitude at least in part to the women's movement? A.JAC Online: 13.webarchive Page 23 of 37 .2 12/2/11 8:28 AM State" and that traditionalists could preserve the class basis of society only by "expelling sex from the realm of respectability.) Within two minutes of landing at Heathrow. my wife is an attorney. I think some of the things that happened in the late sixties and early seventies left me in important respects emancipated. I think it's made an awful difference to my life. with attitudes that are based on anything other than what I take the people to be. but I won't.
I blush to look at those things--the women always in kind of slave positions as it were. Yes. Q. in terms of the general quality of social relations. I think France is still basically a male chauvinist culture. you do see the women's movement as being successful in general then. and I could never stand that. it's just a knife in my guts. On the other hand. Things change so quickly.JAC Online: 13. Would you clarify your thoughts about innate language capacity. I don't know how widespread it is in terms of going from country to country. I understand that. Q. A. especially given the fact that nativism in general seems to be in such disrepute? A. So beyond the personal impact on your life. I think there has been a major transformation. it's obvious that women very often still get a raw deal. it's still a country in which interpersonal relations have a strong stereotypical component which is based on such perceptions. In France. turn on the early morning television and watch French MTV. American MTV is not much better. Chomsky's own opinions change so quickly." and you seem to support instead a weaker version of the nativist thesis. For instance. It's terrible.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM that extent. A. It seems to me to go without saying that in many important respects the human file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. When you're in France. You've expressed "grave objections" to the strong nativist position of Chomsky and others that "the human language capacity is specific and unitary.webarchive Page 24 of 37 . it's clear they don't understand the images they themselves are generating. My wife's in family law. and given how the shoe pinches in family breakups and so on. but there's a kind of tongue-in-cheek quality about it. I know there is a fair number of women. Is it? I didn't know that. If one's doing economic statistics and so on. who feel that not much has been gained. especially in the intellectual world. Q.
which is not very hard to get because the fundamental phenomena are so striking) that in certain respects we must be born with a tendency to develop brains having a particular kind of complexity.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM capacity for language not only is an inherited capacity. for me the presumption is that they aren't hard-wired in. the apraxias. but it has certain physiological preconditions. to "suport the software. I think the arguments which are used to suggest that transformational grammar is hard-wired in could also be used and have been used by people to argue that Newtonian mechanics is hard-wired in.JAC Online: 13. the agnosias--all the different cognitive disabilities that are associated with different kinds of brain injury. or Euclidian geometry." I quote him. whereas human beings perceive the world in a Euclidian way. this would be a recipe for a species that is too stereotypic to survive. in order. I think the fact is that there are very interesting arguments to be gone into about why Kant was able to make such play with the uniqueness of Euclidian geometry. and his attitude was that "anybody who asks about the evolutionary precursors of language doesn't understand what language is. not least neurophysiological preconditions. particularly aphasiology. and so on. I would be prepared in the last resort to argue that the uniqueness of Euclidian geometry is rooted in pragmatic considerations. I went to all of them. It seems to me that if there were a species in which the linguistic structures were hard-wired in on the level of detail that Chomsky supposes." The question is just how much is hard-wired in (forgive the jargon). He's inclined to the view that the brains of geese must be correspondingly different from the brains of human beings. however. Chomsky was very dismissive whenever anybody brought up evolutionary questions. I remember when Chomsky gave his John Locke Lectures in Oxford. One subject that I've from time to time read about is clinical neurology. Now. I would need a lot of convincing in a very specific case before I was prepared to concede a particular grammatical structure was hard-wired in. as they say with computers. For instance. the study of the aphasias. Its obvious (and you only need a minimal acquaintance with that literature.webarchive Page 25 of 37 . In regard to basic grammatical structures. not in anything native about it that one can indeed show how it is that categories file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I'm skeptical about that. those are his words. there is a well-known essay by Konrad Lorenz in which he claims that geese perceive the world in a non-Euclidian way.
what I want to say about this is that it's clear to me that Wittgenstein deliberately avoided taking a position on this subject for reasons that seem to me to be partly arbitrary but generally sufficient. and then if somebody asks you how far away a certain village is. I met David Hamlyn (who edited Mind) at London University. all concepts are culturally relative. Some years ago I was at McMaster University at Hamilton in Ontario.webarchive Page 26 of 37 . They're arbitrary in that what he's doing is seeking to draw a line between philosophical and scientific issues." He didn't use that phrase. Wittgenstein is a cultural relativist. If you live in a jungle surrounded by mountains and you don't have enough flat land to survey and measure. "But of course. There are plenty of people who don't talk that way because they don't live those lives. and he said cheerfully. Wittgenstein is a nativist. Let me add one more point related to nativism. We started talking about Wittgenstein. and I asked him why he said this. we understand each other perfectly well across cultural boundaries. it seems to me that there is a perfectly good point to be made. different cultures have different forms of life. you'll tend to answer. and I reported this conversation with Shalom.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM of everyday colloquial talk about spatial relations takes forms of which the Euclidian account represents a kind of legitimate idealization. a Jewish Québecois who had just published a book about Collingwood. "But of course. ergo.JAC Online: 13. but he meant they must have some kind of physiological basis. agreement in concepts is possible only where there are shared forms of life." Three months later." My eyebrows went up and I asked him to expand on this. "Obviously. and I met a very interesting philosopher called Albert Shalom. He replied. and what he is refusing to do is to admit this question of nativism or relativism into his philosophical discussion. "Two cigarettes. of course." You'll turn the spatial question into a temporal question. "How far away is that village?" to mean "How long does it take to get there?" which of course is the practical question if you're living in the kind of country where cars and airplanes and so on are not available. He explained. all the basic forms of life must in some way or another be hard-wired in. therefore. He laughed airily and said. "But of course that's wrong. You take the question." Again my eyebrows went up. Now. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. On the other hand. for this was some years ago.
She has extended this work in many ways. My nativism is one in which any claim that some aspect of language use has an inherited physiological basis has to be established afresh by real evidence. some cognitive categories that turn out to be. indeed. with a weaker kind of nativism. Of course. and what he discovered is that people who grow up in ideographic cultures and people who grow up in alphabetic cultures display differences in syndromes of aphasia with the same brain injury. as you've said. we do so in a way that establishes neurological pathways that are in certain respects parasitical on the pathways that have already been established in learning to talk and to understand spoken language. at any rate with certain qualifications. so to say.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM which is that you can't generalize about it. theres a fair amount of evidence that when the likes of us. He did some extraordinary work during the Second World War while in a hospital looking after people whod been wounded in the head. beginning with questions about how it is that color language has some pervasive similarities across many cultural boundaries.JAC Online: 13. For example. whereas there are others that we find it harder to recognize and name. are "salient in perception"). it's quite compatible. Indeed. there was a wonderful man called Alexander Romanovich Luria. such as medical evidence--for instance. whereas if you're Chinese and file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. learn to read and write. we are so equipped in terms of our color vision that some colors. Such work is very interesting. some modes of perception. She was led to the conclusion that. But all of this is something we have to find out as we go along. demand to be recognized (or. who has done a lot of work on cognitive categories. who was a student of Vygotsky. There is a very interesting woman at Berkeley. as she puts it. there's a direct relationship between language as it is spoken and heard and language as it is written and read. In alphabetic cultures. growing up in an alphabetic culture.webarchive Page 27 of 37 . from research into people who have had particular kinds of brain injuries. Eleanor Rosch. cultural universals. The idea that we could produce arguments for demonstrating that the entirety of transformational grammar must somehow or other be physiologically available to people seems to me to be just a wild overgeneralization. there may well be some concepts.
Of course. So to that extent. So the notion of how you handle concepts is different. Q. Things that happened in the seventeenth century. it could very well be the same. Why is this so important? A. It's important because the most striking change that took place in the culture of Europe and that deserves to be marked as the transition from one age to another is that which followed the general availability of printed books. but still I see this as the vital transition. with the emergence of the exact sciences and Cartesianism and all the rest. this sort of phonological relationship isn't available to you.JAC Online: 13. A large portion of Cosmopolis concerns deestablishing received views about when the modern age began. thanks to such people as Helen Waddell and Carlo Ginzburg. Of course. and of course there were exceptions (especially in Italy. A. To the extent that handling concepts is what goes on in the public domain. but still. they were the bearers of culture. If there's any single feature characteristic of what we call the Middle Ages. as a result of which you get a lay culture alongside and eventually displacing the ecclesiastical culture. Q. you don't produce a written record of the word. yes.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM you grow up with ideograms. but to the extent that some of these operations become internalized. there was Chaucer. and they decided what belonged in it. would have been impossible if not for events occurring at the very end of the file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. it is the dominance of the ecclesiastical culture and the associated creation of a transnational community of scholars. the received culture as it exists almost down to 1500 is the culture as defined and transmitted within this community of scholars who were also clerics.webarchive Page 28 of 37 . there were wandering scholars and other eccentric folk whose goings on we're beginning to appreciate better. chancellors and clerics of different kinds whose task was both to define and transmit the received culture. where the Renaissance began early). learning to write in Chinese is much more like learning to paint than it is like learning to write in alphabetic language: you paint a picture of the idea. they'd be different in different cultures.
" In fact.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM fifteenth century but primarily in the sixteenth century." Yet. their preoccupations were those of the humanities. because they are precisely the kinds of questions that arise within this new overlap of the exact sciences and the humanities. Q. The issues that the conference was intended to address have some very deep. After all. and the rest. these values are often cited as "postmodern. and concluded that we can claim certainty about nothing. as I argue at the end of the book. Their conception of what there was to write and talk about was formed in this situation. Rabelais. Sophocles. it's only by placing our inheritance from the exact sciences within the context of our inheritance from the humanities that we give ourselves an agenda which has a future.webarchive Page 29 of 37 . only that it's phenomenal that it happened. Cervantes. the reason why this is important is that. He believed that there is no general truth about which certainty is possible. This is why we call them humanists. "The opening gambit of modern philosophy becomes. That's only the beginning of an answer. and Shakespeare all lived in a situation in which there was a minimal amount of exact sciences to pay any attention to. It's impossible to say those questions are only scientific ones or only humanistic ones.JAC Online: 13. What are your thoughts about this seeming contradiction? file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. . You say in Cosmopolis. I'm not saying that I overrate the Rio Conference. The idea of more heads of government meeting in the same place at the same time than ever before in history--the idea that Rachel Carson did this? This is an extraordinary exemplification of what scientific thinking becomes when it finds the salient points at which you can touch political nerves. and important intellectual questions associated with them. it's not for nothing that Erasmus. not the decontextualized rationalism of Descartes Discourse and Meditations. but Montaigne's restatement of classical skepticism in the Apology. . . some composition scholars point directly to Montaigne and his "open-ended inquiry" and his "resistance to closure" as desirable facets of a postmodern pedagogy. and they were the people who recovered and made more widely available the bits of classical antiquity that had never been properly attended to in the High Middle Ages: Plutarch. Montaigne. difficult. Ovid. Think of the 1992 Rio Conference.
At the meeting with the speech communication people. I think the thing to do after rejecting Cartesianism is not to go on through the wreckage of the temple but to go back into the town where this heretical temple was built and rediscover the life that was lived by people for many centuries before the rationalist dream seized hold of people's minds. and that seems to me to have been a pity. given the impetus Montaigne potentially provided. Q. Montaigne may help to cure them of their habits of abstraction. but there is a sense in which this does capture some of my preoccupations. So I think the creation of cultural anthropology was deferred for two-hundred years as a result of the intellectual influence of the rationalists. the kinds of questions that cultural anthropologists were to ask during the twentieth century came to appear not intellectually serious. I didn't know that others were actually seeking to develop a pedagogy based on postmodern ideas. By the way." I confess that in some ways I'm more a neo-premodernist than I am a postmodernist. That's an file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. let me point out that one of the important points I argue in Cosmopolis is that there was no reason in the world that we shouldn't have had a perfectly well-formed program for cultural anthropology by the end of the seventeenth century. I'd be interested to see what this cashed in for and how it was worked out in detail. They may end up writing in a less grandiosely theoretical and more illuminatingly concrete style.webarchive Page 30 of 37 .JAC Online: 13. since we're speaking of Montaigne and since you mentioned Geertz earlier. I'd never thought of calling myself a neo-premodern. But because of this shift of attention to rationalism and the goal of unique theories. so I think the idea of their reading Montaigne and learning from him is desirable. Somebody was wondering what to call the attitude I'd been presenting in my lecture for them and came up with this wonderful phrase: "neopremodern. one comment seemed to me to be both extremely intelligent and amusing. So you don't find a problem with people using Montaigne as a precursor to postmodern ideas? A. I think Montaigne is much better than nearly everybody I've read who's consciously postmodernist.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM A.
transdisciplinary.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM exaggeration but an exaggeration in the right direction. "For the very boundaries between academic disciplines are themselves a consequence of the current divisions of intellectual authority. persuading the academic world to take cultural anthropology seriously was like pulling hen's teeth--it was a problematic business. it's really one of the central pillars. I think people are more aware of the danger of compartmentalization. there's a better recognition that it's no good feeding all the financial support into the long-established disciplines because you'll end up getting stereotyped stuff again and you'll miss the winners." And in Cosmopolis you say. On a certain level. Now it's almost stuffy. it was the ultimate transdisciplinary activity. on the other hand. I honestly think the situation is better now than it was thirty years ago. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I see these groups as facilitators. and I think that federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation are more on the lookout for new interbreedings between established academic disciplines. One could make the point that Diderot and others in the intervening period had a feel for these issues. and it's sort of a natural sequence that after awhile what had previously appeared to be transdisciplinary comes to appear to be centrally disciplinary. "The intellectual tasks for a science in which all the branches are accepted as equally serious call for more subdisciplinary. and the justice of those divisions is itself one of the chief questions to be faced afresh. Q. I can't tell you how transdisciplinary and eccentric molecular biology was when it was first thought up. what you find is that transdisciplinary inquiries are always being started up. I'm less pessimistic than perhaps I was earlier. If you take a historical view.JAC Online: 13. and multidisciplinary reasoning. You argue in Human Understanding that if we are ever going to be able to increase our understanding of human understanding we must halt the increasing tendency to compartmentalize academic areas and disciplines.webarchive Page 31 of 37 ." How can we stop the trend toward increasing compartmentalization and instead encourage the kind of intellectual border crossing that you espouse? A.
The present state of the subject marks the return from a theory-centered conception. . This is "theory" in the sense of playing hunches and thinking of possible explanations of things not necessarily confined to science. When people ask about the future role of theory and they're talking about theory with a big T. The early decades of the social and behavioral sciences file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. The task is not to build new. It seems to me that when we look back historically and discuss matters of an ideological tendency we tend to see the things that happened in previous centuries too much in terms shaped by the categories we inherited from rationalist philosophy. dominated by a concern for stability and rigor. more comprehensive systems of theory with universal and timelessrelevance. and Miss Marple is full of theories with small t's. You have written. You know. ." Do you believe there will be any role for theory in the postmodern age other than the limited scope you refer to? A. but to limit the scope of even the best-framed theories and fight the intellectual reductionism that became entrenched during the ascendancy of rationalism. all those theories with little t's (and some of them may aim prematurely to achieve slightly more grandiose things than are there to be achieved) will be part of what goes on in the intellectual world in the future as in the past. and so I have a general feel for the way all of that language goes. I was a physicist and lived among scientists. we should be prepared to kiss rationalism goodbye and walk off in the opposite direction with joy in our hearts.webarchive Page 32 of 37 .JAC Online: 13. . they are overdramatizing the situation. detectives involved in criminal investigations have their theories about who did it. and it's plain that there will always be lots of them. "When Wittgenstein and Rorty argue that philosophy is at the end of the road. As I said. I don't know what people mean by "theory" in this situation.2 12/2/11 8:28 AM Q. there's a contrast between theory with a capital T and theories with small ts." This is reminiscent of Geertz's "local knowledge" and Fish's campaign "against theory. I'm inclined to shake hands with Rorty and say there is probably no legitimate role for theory with a big T. which requires us to adapt action to the special demands of particular occasions. Their theories tend to have small ts. To talk Rortian for the moment. to a renewed acceptance of practice. However.
there are many of them. You must dig down and find out what the people are really up to and why certain things are perceived as difficulties and others are glossed over. that's part of reinserting the activity of science within the humane world. The purpose of the scientific paper is to make a point. but Sharon Traweek comes to mind. There's no guarantee whatever that the way things are presented in the paper was historically the order in which they were done in the actual lab or in the research inquiry which is being reported on. But that means there are all kinds of limitations on the view of science you get if all you have to go on is the printed texts. A. Q. argumentative.webarchive Page 33 of 37 . It's persuasive. (I've always had the feeling there should be a subject of this kind. it's intended to be persuasive. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I always enjoyed sitting in the bar at Rockefeller University at the end of the afternoon and listening to scientists talk to each other because what they talked about among themselves when they weren't writing papers was much more revealing about what was bugging them. argumentative. what kind of sense they were going to make of their results.) What I'm leading to is a wonderful essay by the later Peter Medawar called "Is the Scientific Paper Fraudulent?" He points out that a scientific paper tends to be presented in such a way that it looks as though it were a historical narrative. So an intellectual history based on the categories of rationalism is like an account of science that only looks at printed texts. it's all quite a different story. Yes. to provide substantive foundation for some new twist in the science in question. But if you'd really been a physicist and knew about the life of the exact sciences as it goes on at places like Rockefeller University.2 12/2/11 8:29 AM were terribly damaged by the tendency to think that what the inductive logician said about science was the same as science. then you knew that what the inductive logician said was really beside the point.JAC Online: 13. but that's absolutely irrelevant to what it's there to do. why they were having difficulties. what they hadn't yet figured out. There's a very interesting group of people now doing what they call the ethnography of science. so people busily tried to put psychology into a form that would be acceptable to the inductive logicians.
to spend about one half-day a week in the University of Chicago Hospital working alongside doctors whose business is to think about and discuss and arrive at conclusions about the moral problems that a rise in the context of the clinical practice of medicine. and an insistence on getting the "right answer.JAC Online: 13. over the last few years. an exclusive preoccupation with logical systematicity has been destructive of both historical understanding and rational criticism." One of the mysteries of the whole rationalist era was the way in which reasonableness was pushed aside as not being intellectually serious. there's no way you're going to answer those questions by some kind of formal algorithm." Let me give you an example. I'd be inclined to say that this is a nice exemplar of the demands of rationality." as you say Lyotard and the deconstructionists believe." You go on to say that people "demonstrate their rationality. I have tended. rather." Then. First. but in the last resort the question of how the decision to turn off the lifesupport system is going to be arrived at is one that (I certainly wouldn't want to say this is an "irrational" or even a "nonrational" question) has to be dealt with with an immense awareness of all that is at stake: what the possibilities are.webarchive Page 34 of 37 . There is a point in Cosmopolis (and also in file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. within this new situation. but by their preparedness to respond to novel situations with open minds. you aregue that in the postmodern age we don't need to replace "rationality" with "absurdity." with the assumption that there is a "right answer. only rationality counted.2 12/2/11 8:29 AM Q. I think this was associated with a kind of worship of algorithms. I talked earlier about the Rio Conference and the questions that arise in ecology. You write that the thesis of Human Understanding is that "in science and philosophy alike. How would you characterize this new postmodern rationality? How would it work? A. we need to reconceptualize rationality as nonsystemic. we should be much less tempted to contrast "rationality" with "reasonableness. Now. and a lot of other factors. not by ordering their concepts and beliefs in tidy formal structures. the deamnds of reason within the new situation where theory has a highly circumscribed status. in Cosmopolis. what the attitudes of the family are. what the presumed wishes of the unconscious patient are. I'm not saying that mathematics is entirely irrelevant. a worship of formal arguments.
you've got philosophy of law. not just psychiatrists theorizing but psychiatrists who are actually figuring out how they can help patients and what is feasible and what can be done. the rhetoric of the other. psychiatric issues. Arthur Danto's essays in The Nation on contemporary art are both very philosophical but also very much concerned with the actual substance of what's going on in the New York art scene. She commented. and his long complex essays come out in The New York Review.JAC Online: 13. Ronald Dworkin writes about current problems in law from a philosophical point of view." It seems to me that philosophy is in the same position. medical ethics. one could only throw some light on it by philosophers sitting down with and among and listening to working psychiatrists--clinical psychiatrists. finding ways of stymieing the promotion of Judge Bork. Q. They never talk about rhetoric as a subject that could be discussed in isolation from all the other enterprises within which language is used in ways that students of rhetoric are interested in. Philosophy of science is done increasingly by people who understand the problems of science from inside science. and things of that kind. Hence. philosophy of art. "Everything we do these days. I talked with a woman who'd been trained at Berkeley's Department of Rhetoric. My friend and colleague David Hull writes about evolutionary biology as a result of being continually engaged in the study of evolutionary biology and discussions with biologists. philosophy of science. are always about the rhetoric of this.webarchive Page 35 of 37 . There is a more general point I should make. If there is a mind-body problem left. all the dissertations written in the Berkeley rhetoric department. file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. I think philosophers often do their best work when they turn their skills to helping to hoe other people's vineyards. So a new kind of rationality would be contextualized within specific areas. so philosophers are engaged in helping to clarify the way ahead for evolutionary biology as much as people like Dworkin are engaged in.2 12/2/11 8:29 AM my "Recovery of Practical Philosophy" lecture) at which I say that the crucial quesitons now have to do with environmental issues. the rhetoric of that. At the speech communication conference. for instance. which of course is John Locke's old crack about being an underlaborer clearing away the underbrush that stands in the way of understanding.
It would be much less misleading to say that we have to make sure that we make the decision whether and when to turn off the life-support system in a "reasonable" manner than to say that we have to have a "rational" procedure for making that decision. You've put forth numerous controversial propositions in several disciplinary areas. They are Cartesian in that you can only understand what is being said by understanding it as referring to some sort of foundationalist mode of talking about the products of the human reason. I have a colleague at the University of Pittsburgh. Yes. It's akin to the big and little t's of theory. It's got too much of a historical burden now. we need to break down the distinction between rationality and reasonableness. philosophy of science. Such work has led to a considerable aount of criticism. The arguments built around the concept of rationality tend to be themselves Cartesian. Yes. He was once sleepless for a long time because Philosophy of Science Quarterly had devoted a whole issue to his ideas. even if they are turned against the inheritance of Descartes. and that's not there for us anymore. that's actually a very interesting thing to say because the critical theory literature oscillates between using the word rational with. Are there any criticisms or misunderstandings of your work that you would like to address at this time? A. it's too much concerned with the development of algorithms and the use of formal procedures. Adolf Grunbaum. The trouble is that the word rationality is like the word rhetoric. who is so hurt by criticism that if you write even a friendly three-page note in some journal he'll come back with a twenty-one page correction of your misunderstandings of his position. As I've said.webarchive Page 36 of 37 . A.JAC Online: 13. including logic. I have shamelessly failed to pay attention to criticism of my work. as it were. a small r and then referring to "rationality" in a way that I think immediately springs a capital R in Rorty's sense.2 12/2/11 8:29 AM A. now we have a big and little r. and rhetoric. and there in print were all of these papers by people who he thought were his friends and who thought of file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. Q. Q.
It's all a question of priorities. I've moved into another area. the people who are captious are those who have their own axe to grind.2 12/2/11 8:29 AM themselves as his friends. It's unfair of me to cite Adolf. To return to the very first thing we were talking about. And I do find that a surprisingly large number of people turn out to have read my work and understood perfectly well what I was saying. he's a nice fellow but feels he can't let anything pass.webarchive Page 37 of 37 . They use what they take my views to be. I'm absolutely the opposite: I quite shamelessly let everything pass because I'm much more interested in writing the next book. By the time the criticisms of any one book come out. not always in as friendly a spirit as Charlie Willard.JAC Online: 13. but the papers were so full of misunderstandings that he didn't see how he would ever succeed in correcting them. and I feel disinclined to go back and root around in a field I've left. as a whipping post of some kind or another. top archive comment on what you've read email editor home file:///Users/raysawhill/Desktop/Q&A%20with%20Stephen%20Toulmin. On the whole. I know well that I put as much work as I possibly could into making what I said plain and intelligible.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.